Brooklyn, Queens Pols sound off on redistricting

The New York City Districting Commission released its preliminary maps for the 51 city council districts across the five boroughs—and not everyone is happy about it.

Federal law requires that the city to redraw council boundaries every ten years to account for population changes in the U.S. Census. From 2010 to 2020, the population of New York City has grown from 8.2 million to 8.8 million. To reflect the increase, the new plan would raise the average number of residents per district from 160,710 to 172,882.

One major change to the maps focuses on the Asian population within Brooklyn – and throughout the city – which has increased heavily since 2010. Census data shows that Kings County has welcomed 100,000 more Asian residents in the last ten years, making it the fastest-growing racial group in the borough.

The Asian majority district would be a redrawn version of the 43rd council district, currently represented by Justin Brannan. Current boundaries stretch from Fort Hamilton and Bay Ridge to Dyker Heights and Bath Beach. The proposed district consists of different swaths of Sunset Park, Bensonhurst, and Dyker Heights taking chunks of the current districts from Councilwoman Alexa Avilés, Councilman Justin Brannan, and Councilman Ari Kagan.

As a result, Justin Brannan’s hometown of Bay Ridge would shift into the Sunset Park and Red Hook-based district currently represented by Alexa Avilés. Meanwhile, Red Hook would move into the district represented by Shahana Hanif, as part of the redistricting.

Neither pol is a fan of the plan.

“It is perplexing that the creation of an AAPI-majority seat in southern Brooklyn would lead to the dissolution and division of Red Hook, Sunset Park – in addition to Dyker Heights – and it is certainly not necessary,” a joint statement from Brannan and Avilés reads. “By combining our current districts 38 and 43, you are dividing our district and further diluting the power we have to advocate for our community-specific, shared needs and goals.”

Brannan and Aviles also questioned the decision to create an asian majority district by eliminating the 38th – which was created to bolster Hispanic representation.

“We look forward to seeing future proposals, because this ain’t it,” the statement continues.

The Districting Commission’s preliminary lines could potentially impact communities in Queens too, where elected officials are concerned that the new lines could potentially cut out portions of existing Black enclaves.

Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers said that based on the preliminary maps, the new lines would cut remove portions of Springfield Gardens and institutions like the Robert Couche Senior Center out of the district.

“Council District 31 residents are a unique mosaic of ethnic communities that share similar values, a major economic driver – the JFK International Airport – and are racially and ethnically cohesive, and should stay that way,” Brooks-Powers said in a statement. “History has shown that redrawing the lines in this way will dilute Council District 31’s voting power and misalign the community’s collective voice.”

Brooks-Powers added that she feels strongly that the Rockaway community remain as it exists and not be adjusted.

“The current Peninsula representation includes a vibrant Jewish community, several NYCHA developments, Arverne by the Sea, and everything in between,” she added. “There is no need to disrupt the Peninsula representation. I appreciate all of the work the Commissioners have invested to date and look forward to further engagement around the future of Council District 31.”

The commission will be holding an additional set of public hearing across the five boroughs for residents to voice their concerns. The hearings are currently scheduled for Aug. 15, 16, 17, 18 and 22.

Council scrambles to stop education cuts

Education advocates, public school teachers and parents have filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging that New York lawmakers improperly approved the controversial education budget.

The suit, filed on July 17 with the New York Supreme Court, alleges that DOE Chancellor David Banks improperly utilized an emergency declaration to circumnavigate public hearings and failed to provide sufficient evidence about the size of the cuts.

The New York City Council voted for the budget on June 13, ten days before the Panel for Education Policy—the governing body for the Department of Education—voted on June 23. The lawsuit seeks to place an injunction on the current budget allowing for a revote on the budget in August.

“In at least twelve out of the past thirteen years, since at least June 2, 2010, several different New York City Schools Chancellors have invoked a similar ‘emergency’ using the same boilerplate language in order to immediately adopt a budget prior to a vote of the City Board (Panel for Education Policy) and prior to the City Council vote,” the complaint reads.

A large part of the city’s education budget is determined by the Fair Student Funding formula, which allocates resources based off of enrollments and disenrollments. Former Mayor Bill de Blasio prevented cuts to schools over the last two years by utilizing federal funds to cover the fluctuations in enrollments.

Overall 1,100 schools are expected to receive cuts from their budget totalling to $469 million, while 354 schools will be receiving increases to their budget, according to an analysis by the Comptroller’s office.

Over the last two years, enrollments in NYC public school have dropped by 80,000. Public school enrollments are expected to drop by 30,000 more students this fall, according to data shared with the New York Post.

Plaintiffs include Sarah Brooks, a special education teacher at P.S. 169 in Sunset Park, Melanie Kottler, a parent with a rising 2nd grader at P.S. 169, Tamara Tucker, a parent of two children at P.S. 125 in Harlem, and Paul Trust, a music teacher at P.S. 39 in Park Slope, where the music education program is under the chopping block.

“I have students who have gone on to the finfest conservatories and those who have formed the loudest of rock bands. All this will go away with these budget cuts,” Trust said in a statement. “I can only hope that this will not be the last year I am able to continue to serve the school community I love.”

On Monday July 18, a day after the suit was filed, members of the New York City Council rallied outside the Department of Education, to protest the cuts with advocates despite a number of the councilmembers previously voting for the budget.

“As more information was released, it became clear that the cuts to school funding were far more overreaching than originally communicated,” Councilwoman Jennifer Gutiérrez, who voted for the budget, said in a statement. “I take responsibility for my vote, and demand the Mayor and the Chancellor also take responsibility for the thousands of students whose education will be diminished by these funding cut, by fully restoring education funding before August 1st in a moment when we need it most.”

“Principals in my district have repeatedly shared that in FY22, COVID stimulus funds enabled them to fully fund academic intervention programs, support for English Language Learners, and music and arts programs for the first time,” Councilwoman Shahana Hanif said in a statement. “These programs are not superfluous, but essential to student’s holistic development.

M.S. 839 Teacher Frank Marino, whose school was slated to lose $226,557 after a 1.66 percent drop in enrollment, echoed similar sentiments in an interview with the Brooklyn Downtown Star last month.

“It’s always the schools [getting cut], we should be at this point, as teachers and students and families demanding more. And yet again, we’re here on the defensive, fighting for the bare minimum fighting for our school to have an art program,” Marino said.

Members at the rally suggested that Mayor Adams could utilize reserve funds to cover the cuts made to the budget.

“Since day one, the Adams administration has been committed to uplifting students throughout the five boroughs. As was reflected during the budget process, there are more city funds in DOE’s FY23 budget than last fiscal year,” City Hall spokesperson Jonah Allon told The Brooklyn Downtown Star. “While enrollment in public schools dropped, the city has maintained the unprecedented commitment to keep every school from every zip code at 100 percent of Fair Student Funding.”

New murals at Fort Greene school

Students at Fort Greene Preparatory Academy and P.S. 46 unveiled a new set of murals at their school on Friday afternoon.

20 students from the elementary and middle school campus at 100 Clermont Ave., paired with a professional artist to complete five murals in their cafeteria. 

The completed designs show, from left to right: the logo for Fort Greene Preparatory Academy, a picture of equations floating around a diploma and feather pen, the scales of justice, a musical note surrounded by different social media logos, and the logo for P.S. 46.

Even though Jaiyana Wiley, 13, primarily worked on other murals, she said that the one in the middle, depicting the scales of justice, was her favorite.

“It’s about balance. It’s about everything,” Wiley said in an interview.

Artist Tyronn Kelley, 53, said that while he helped them with some details, the students really did do most of the work. 

“I just kind of enhanced the work. So just to make sure that everything was crystal clear and had depth,” Kelley said.  So other than that they did the work they didn’t leave me much to do.”

“Talented kids man… talented kids,” Kelley continued saying, with a big grin on his face.

Kelley further said that being able to give back and teach kids about art was an honor since art is what he says put him on a positive trajectory in life.

“It only takes like one or two experiences to put that kid on a path to who’s gonna be in the future. So anything that promotes positivity, I just love it,” Kelley said.

The murals were organized by the gun violence prevention group Melquian Jatelle Anderson Foundation. Michelle Barnes-Anderson founded and named after her son was murdered in 2017 at the Farragut Houses.

“So we have tried to do a lot of things in the Farragut/Fort Greene area,” Khadedra Hall, the sister of Barnes-Anderson and Chief Financial Officer of MJAF, explained. “So we were excited, happy, and over the moon that we were able to do our first mural project right here at this school that has not only children from Farragut, but also serves children from Fort Greene.”

Funding for the mural program was awarded to the faith-based community organization BronxConnect by Urban Upbound, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending poverty in New York City. Reverend Wendy Calderón-Payne, the executive director of BronxConnect, contracted MJAF to create three murals.

The second MJAF-organized mural is currently in progress and will be located on Dean Street. MJAF said in an email that they have recruited youth from Pure Legacee in Brownsville, an organization that assists formerly incarcerated or homeless young women, to assist with the project.

The third and final mural is tentatively scheduled to be completed in the Tompkins area due to gang presence. 

“This is something that they will be able to remember for years to come and share with their children. So that’s why we wanted to do a mural,” Barnes-Anderson said. “We didn’t want to just do a painting that could be hung up and taken down. We wanted something that the school would take and cherish and memorize, you know, be memorable for years to come.”

Remembering Brooklyn poet Wynne Henry

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Wynne Henry always had dreams of moving back to Brooklyn.

The Flatbush-bred poet and writer would often talk about it on the phone with her friend Helene Ruiz, founder of the Urban Individualists Collective. They would daydream about moving into adjacent apartment buildings so that they could send food over to each other over the clothewsire and laugh at all the chicken heads below them.

Unfortunately, Henry, who friends often called “poetry dancer,” never got to live that dream. She died in December of last year in California, after a battle with cancer. But her friends ended up giving her the next best thing with a proper memorial in her hometown.

Photos of the late Wynne Henry displayed at her memorial service.

On Friday, several of Henry’s friends gathered in the backyard of an AirBnb in Little Haiti to give the Brooklyn girl a deserving send-off. Throughout her life, Henry worked as a creative writing teacher both in New York City and on the west coast, where she moved several years ago to take care of her mother. Several small plastic fold up tables were set up in the back, each decorated with old photos of Henry and copies of her poetry collection “7 Blocks… and TWO Stories up” that friends would read from.

“She was quiet, simple, practical, and made every effort to do what was good for herself and those around her. She was a woman of her word, and I felt she deserved so much more than life gave her in return,” Kimberly Allen, 54, said. They had been friends for 12 years, originally meeting in the Los Angeles poetry scene.

In everyday life, Wynne was a quiet and introspective person. She wasn’t necessarily shy, but was reserved and often didn’t want to worry friends with her own problems. But in her writing, her voice soared.

“She seemed to really see people. When she brought her poetry and some of the things that she expressed, it let you know that she paid attention to everyday life and the people that she would run across,” Allen continued.

Henry’s poems delved into an array of topics: the scourge of racism, the simple pleasure and disappointments of love and meditations on daily life. One poem, which started as a writing prompt asking poets to define why they write, demonstrates some of her artistic drive.

“I want my poetry to help you find your voice/one word at a time/and when you finally run out of things to say/I want my poetry to speak for you,” a poem entitled ‘I want my poetry to’ reads, from her collection “7 Blocks… and TWO Stories up.

Wynne Henry’s poetry collection “7 Blocks… and TWO stories up”

And on Friday afternoon, Henry’s words spoke for the friend who months later still struggled to find the words to properly mourn her.

Karen Abercrombie remembers many things about her friend of over 20 years, but one of the first that came to mind was her love of cats. After all, Henry is the reason why Abercrombie has two herself.

One Thanksgiving in North Carolina, Abercrombie took Henry to the local animal shelter. They came back each day just to look at one specific cat to adopt. He ended up getting adopted by another family. So, naturally, Abercrombie ended up adopting two other cats instead: one name Langston, after Langston Hughes (one of Henry’s favorite writers); and the other Finn.

Henry didn’t own a cat herself, Abercrombie explained, and speculated that it was because of the disappearance of her childhood cat. But that didn’t stop her from showering her friends’ pets with homemade crochets or picking up their favorite food when she saw it in a supermarket.

“Everytime I look at my cats – or things we shared together, like our love for African fabrics – I think of her,” Abercrombie said tearfully.

William Washington, a fellow poet, said that Henry had shaped him in many ways.

“So what I remember most about her is that besides great poetry, was the love affair we had that was never a love affair,” Washington said explaining their complicated relationship. Washington explained that while they had deep feelings for each other, Henry often kept him at arms length after her first battle with breast cancer.

“I loved her. And I like to think she loved me,” Washington said, to audible agreements from other memorial attendees.

Washington described his poetry before meeting Henry as mad and angry, which often contained harsh language. But Henry taught him that he could use his words to talk about more than just what enraged him.

“You wasn’t born angry like this. So don’t be afraid to write about love. And even if I was writing about my broken heart, she said write about this therapy. She taught me how to use soothing calming words instead of the words I was using,” Washington said.

While most of the attendants knew Henry in different ways, either in passing through art and poetry shows or decades long friendships, Luis Hidalgo, who never met Henry and attended the memorial with his wife,was equally moved by the ceremony.

“You know, as I get older, I think about my legacy. And to see what a legacy this woman left, the way she touched you. And the way she touched me through the words that you spoke here. What a wonderful thing,” Hidalgo said. “You know, words that were written down 2,000, 3,000 years ago, hundreds of years ago, that still echo today. Words that have taken men into battle. Words, putting men and women in love. And we still read it all these years later. And somehow this lady fits that mold.

Hidalgo continued to say that in reality Henry isn’t gone.

“Because in the Bible, it says if more than two to speak my word, I am present. Well, she’s present then.”

New Brooklyn Heights Library opens

By Matthew Fischetti

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The second largest library in Brooklyn opened its doors to the general public this past Wednesday.

The new Brooklyn Heights library, located at 286 Cadman Plaza West—the same as its former facility—now features over 26,000 square feet of space, floor-to-ceiling windows, a teen’s library, a children’s area, a sunlit reading room, and plenty of books to put your nose into.

“Now, as the second-largest library after the Brooklyn Public Library’s central branch, the opening of the Brooklyn Heights Library will serve as a cultural hub for all of Brooklyn and an invaluable local resource to thousands of nearby residents,” Councilwoman Crystal Hudson said. “We must continue to expand the resources available to our libraries and cultural institutions and make access to a quality library the norm, not the exception. Libraries are true indicators of the health and safety of our communities and a critical component to the social fabric of our City.”

In 2015, the City Council approved the plan to replace the previous library with a new building, made by private developer Hudson Companies Inc. The library sits at the base of the new 38-story building that houses 134 condominiums.

The original library was built in 1962 and had $9 million worth of unfunded needs prior to the renovation, according to the Brooklyn Public Library’s website. The Brooklyn Public Library also states that the original building was poorly designed to the point that more than 50 percent of its space was unavailable for public use.

The redevelopment project was largely funded by selling off the city-owned property for $52 million. Of the funding, $40 million was spent on repairs and improvements at branches across the system, while $12 million was allocated toward the interior of the Brooklyn Heights Library.

The developer also paid for the core and shell of the new library, a 9,000 square-foot STEAM lab to be operated by the NYC Department of Education, and rent for an interim library throughout the construction period. In addition, the development included 114 affordable apartments located at 909 Atlantic Avenue and 1043 Fulton Street.

“I’m so thrilled to celebrate the reopening of the new Brooklyn Heights Library! This was my childhood library and the stunning, state-of-the-art facility is going to be an essential community hub for the Brooklyn Heights community for generations to come,” Councilman Lincoln Restler said.

“Libraries are one of our greatest democratic institutions, and so I’m thrilled to celebrate the opening of the new Brooklyn Heights Library. This 21st century library will be a welcome asset and inspiration to the community for generations to come,” Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon said. “Here, children, teens, and adults can explore free programs, build community, read and learn. The Brooklyn Public Library has long been a critical cultural and educational anchor for the borough’s residents.”

The new branch will feature bas-reliefs, a kind of carving where the illustration is raised from the base, by Clemente Spampino – whose artwork originally adorned the exterior of the 1962 building. Starting this summer, the branch will also have a new installation “Something Borrowed, Something New,” by Brooklyn-based artist Jean Shin, to mark the 125th anniversary of Brooklyn Public Library. The installation honors the library’s roots with an upside-down tree to represent the shared history with the library and generations of Brooklynites.

Shootings down, major crime up, cops say

Mayor Eric Adams credited the anti-gun crime unit he brought back earlier this year for a downturn in gun crime at a press conference in Brooklyn on Monday.

Recent NYPD stats show that shootings across the city were down 6.5 percent compared to this time last year. However, NYPD data also shows that major crimes—a category that includes seven different kinds of felonies including rape and grand larceny—-were up a whopping 38 percent from last year. Murder was the only individual major crime category that showed a citywide decrease of nine percent.

The anti-gun crime unit, dubbed the “Neighborhood Safety Team”, is a revamped version of the city’s plainclothes unit, which was disbanded due in 2020 to its involvement in shootings across the city. According to a 2018 report from the investigative journalism outlet, The Intercept, while plainclothes officers represented only six percent of the force they were responsible for 31 percent of all fatal shooting incidents.

Mayor Adams made good on his campaign promise of reinstating the unit back in January.

Adams stated that the teams will avoid previous mistakes by requiring officers to turn on their body cameras when interacting with the public and wearing windbreakers that make officers more identifiable as cops.

The Neighborhood Safety Teams have seized 105 firearms and effected 115 gun arrests since their start in March, according to NYPD.

“If we do the work to get it to the grand jury, to get that indictment, to make that arrest — then the other team must do their part,” Adams said at the press conference. “If we do the work to get it to the grand jury, to get that indictment, to make that arrest — then the other team must do their part.”

Mayor Adams placed blame on Albany lawmakers for not passing stronger restriction to bail reform.

“We would have liked to receive more, like the dangerousness standard. That’s so important. You have one of these guys that come in front of you or someone is arrested nine times. I think the judge should make the determination, this person presents an imminent threat to the city,” Adams said.

However, a report from progressive comptroller Brad Lander published last March, found that bail reform was not responsible for the increase in crime.

Adams noted that he will be pushing for the dangerous standard to be included in the next legislative session.

2022 Election Profile: Assembly Candidate Johanna Carmona

Johanna Carmona, a Sunnyside native and former Hispanic community liaison for outgoing Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, announced her bid for the New York State Assembly’s 37th District.

Nolan, whose district whose district encompasses the Hunters Point, Sunnyside, Woodside, Maspeth, and Ridgewood communities in Western Queens, has held the position since 1984. Following the announcement of her retirement, four local candidates have opted to throw their hats into the ring.

Carmona, 32, is a lawyer who previously worked special victims for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office. She has also been endorsed by Nolan, who has represented the area for decades and felt she is the most qualified to succeed her up in Albany.

The main reason Carmona is running for the Assembly is to help give her community substantive representation at the state level.

“The neighborhood’s growing, but at the same time, it still has the same values that I feel are there from when I was little,” Carmona said in an interview. She emphasized that the tight-knit community of Sunnyside has been instrumental in her own life, like when neighbors helped her Dad with everything from babysitters to cooking a decent meal after Carmona’s mother suffered a stroke.

Carmona’s three top issues she’d like to tackle up in Albany are public safety, education, and affordable housing.

“The rent increases are going to be a concern because it also affects someone like myself,” Carmona said about the Rent Guidelines Board potential increases, adding that she’s been a lifelong tenant. Carmona supports Good Cause Eviction, a bill that would strengthen tenant rights with certain clarification to the language of the bill, saying that some terms such as what is deemed ‘satisfactory’ to the court are too grey and needs more clear definitions.

While Carmona is generally supportive of bail reform, she says the legislation could have been written more robustly before passing. The former special victims prosecutor said that the bill lacked key provisions and that her experience as a lawyer will suit her to write effective legislation.

“And then there was also another one where they didn’t include which was obscene sexual acts performed by a child, why wasn’t that included? My biggest thing is that I’ve dealt with victims, and my biggest proponent is to make sure victims are protected. And, of course, it was amended and included that, but you know, people have to understand that the wording has to be careful when something that passes so quickly,” Carmona said.

Carmona plans to laser in on lowering class size, funding for after-school programs, and expanding college access programs.

“Making sure we have solid college access programs, I think will be very beneficial because it’s a nice way coming from a family of very low income to segue into a better job,” Carmona said, specifically highlighting how an NYU program helped her in her own life.

While Carmona has her main issues, she also would like to focus on otter topics like climate policy. Specifically, she’s looking at ways to revitalize Newton Creek, such as using the waterway as a source of renewable energy and utilizing discretionary funds to expedite the clean-up timetable.

Carmona has been hitting the district one door at a time, even giving her personal cell phone number to potential voters to make sure she is accessible to the community.

“The majority of people just want a better quality of life,” Carmona said about her conversations with voters across the district. “It comes down to people protecting their families, being able to afford their homes, and being able to just go down the street and say I can come back home safe. And honestly, it’s just that’s what’s been resonating throughout the whole district.”

Carmona will be facing fellow candidates Juan Ardilla, Jim Magee, and Brent O’Leary in the Tuesday, June 28 primary.

NYC goes ‘BIG’ for Biggie’s 50th Birthday

Biggie Smalls always repped Brooklyn to the fullest. And now his city is doing the same for him.

This past Saturday would have been the 50th birthday for the rapper, whose real name was Christopher Wallace, a Clinton Hill (then called Bed-Stuy) native who rose to prominence with searing lyrics and flows of his rags-to-riches story. He was gunned down in Los Angeles in 1997 and no one has been charged for the murder.

Starting at midnight on Saturday, fans waited for hours at subway stations to try and get a limited edition Biggie Smalls MetroCard. The Empire State Building was lit red and white in honor of the rapper. And Lincoln Center will be holding a tribute in June.

For many in New York, and especially Brooklyn, Biggie is as iconic as a Yankees fitted or a dollar slice of pizza. He’s long been a true staple of the city and a shining symbol for Brooklyn grit. But for many years, this level of institutional recognition was all but a dream.

LeRoy McCarthy with Congressman Jamaal Bowman and Senator Chuck Schumer inside the recreation room at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx. Better known as the “birthplace of Hip-Hop,” this was where DJ Kool Herc performed to a crowd on August 11, 1973 (Credit: LeRoy McCarthy)

LeRoy McCarthy started a petition in 2013 to get the street corner on St. James Place between Fulton Street and Gates Avenue named Christopher Wallace Way.

“When I started this effort independently, I was saying that there was not recognition for hip hop as there is for rock and roll, or jazz or country. Hip hop is an indigenous and American creation – a composite of different music and art forms to create what we now know as hip hop,” McCarthy said in an interview.

That year, members of Brooklyn’s Community Board 2 reportedly rejected a proposal to rename a street corner after him due to his drug-dealing history, misogynist language used in his lyrics, and for being too overweight.

“And as a matter of fact, his mom [Wallace’s Mother] asked me not to do it, because the sentiment was so bad. And it was so distasteful the way that they spoke of her son, in these publications and in the community,” former Councilman Robert Cornegy said in an interview. Cornegy grew up in the same Brooklyn building as the late rapper, promising Wallace’s mother that he would someday honor her son’s legacy.

While explaining the contributions Biggie made to the community, Cornegy recalled a community board member interrupting his speech to read Biggie’s lyrics, in an attempt to sway people against voting for a street renaming.

“She [Wallace’s mother] didn’t want to do it, quite frankly. We backed off the first time, because she couldn’t take hearing the way that people felt about her son, which didn’t represent what 99 percent of the community and the culture understood the significance, but that 1 percent was very loud, who were vehemently against the street and the park naming,” Cornegy said.

Crispus Attucks Park was dedicated to Biggie in 2017, and in 2019 the street corner that he grew up on was renamed Christopher Wallace Way.

“It puts a little bit of a smirk on my face when I know how people initially felt and have we not stayed diligent with making sure that the world was aware of his contributions. I don’t know what would have happened. So there’s a whole bunch of people, not just myself on the ground, who really, really hammered this home consistently about the contributions,” Cornegy said.

Cornegy also emphasized the work that has been done by the Christopher Wallace Memorial Foundation. While B.I.G used to stand for “Business instead of Game”, the foundation, which helps provide learning materials and fixies libraries, has transformed the definition to be “Books Instead of Guns”.

As an avid Biggie fan, McCarthy waited over an hour and a half to try and get one of the coveted 50,000 limited edition metro cards on Saturday morning. He wasn’t able to snag one. But as luck would have it, McCarthy met Barron Claiborne, the photographer who took the iconic photo of Biggie used on the MetroCard, at the block party he co-organized in Brooklyn.

McCarthy swapped one of his Christopher Wallace Way signs for a MetroCard autographed by Claiborne.

McCarthy says that he has been speaking with Speaker Adrienne Adams to get the NYC council to recognize August as Hip Hop recognition month as well as members of the Los Angeles City Council to pass a similar resolution. He was part of efforts that got the month recognized by the federal government, celebrating the genesis of hip hop by DJ Kool Herc on August 11, 1973 in the Bronx.

“But what I’m trying to do is have the intersection of St. James and folk history to be somewhat of an Abbey Road of hip hop – like a Graceland type thing or 56 Hope Road where Bob Marley’s house is. So it’s like an attraction, a part of Americana. Honoring hip hop is one thing, but this would also be a landmark for hip hop.”

School bus idling crackdown

Attorney General Letitia James announced a new lawsuit on Thursday against three bus companies that have allegedly violated idling laws, predominantly in low-income neighborhoods in Kings County for years.

State laws prevent idling for more than five minutes; city laws bar idling for more than three minutes and one minute in a school zone. Both laws have certain exceptions.

The lawsuit alleges that the three companies – Jofaz Transportation, Inc., 3rd Avenue Transit, Inc., and Y&M Transit Corp., Inc. – constantly violated City and State idling laws from 2019 to as recently as April of this year. James’ office is seeking monetary penalties and a court order to force the companies to comply with the laws.

The three companies, collectively known as the Jofaz Companies, are owned by Joseph Fazzia and his family. In total, they operate 614 buses throughout the city and three bus yards in Brooklyn, per the AG’s office.

A representative for Jofaz Transportation could not be reached as of press time.

The AG previously made an agreement with Jofaz Companies to train staff and comply with city and state laws. The lawsuit alleges that the violations continued well after the meeting, citing data captured by Geotab, a software management tool that the Department of Education installed on the buses.

“The data shows that a significant amount of the Jofaz Companies’ unlawful idling occurs at its three bus yards, two of which are located in or adjacent to communities that are low-income and/or where the residents are primarily people of color (environmental justice communities),” the lawsuit states. “Such communities already suffer from disproportionately high levels of air pollution and a correspondingly disproportionately high number of emergency room visits and hospital admissions for asthma and other respiratory illnesses.”

The Attorney General also found that in 2019, 30 different Jofaz school buses idled for at least 10 minutes each for a total of 285 different times over 65 days near P.S. K140, the same location where James hosted the press conference announcing the suit. Bed Stuy, the neighborhood surrounding P.S. K140 is in the 92nd percentile in the country for levels of diesel particulate matter and has childhood asthma rates in the 70th to 80th percentile, according to the AG’s office.

I’m also grateful for all of the advocates have coming out to support the lawsuit against illegal idling,” Chelsea Miller, a Bed-Stuy high school student with asthma, said. “I’m glad that students who have asthma are being cared for, and that we as a whole are fighting against this and hoping for better air quality.”

Brooklyn debate league raises $1.3M after viral post

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

This quote is how coach K.M. DiColandrea would begin almost every debate team practice at Frederick Douglass Academy. He would urge his students to figure out their ‘why’.

At 15, Jonathan Conyers couldn’t answer the question.

Conyers, now 27, has figured out the answer. When he was selected to tell his life story with Humans of New York, he opted to talk about his teacher, nicknamed DiCo, instead. And that’s when over $1.2 million started rolling in to support the Brooklyn Debate League.

Through 12 different posts on the account, Conyers shared his life story, overcoming ‘hows’ like drug-addicted parents, getting evicted numerous times, and seeing his friend locked up at 14.

Conyers enrolled in Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem after avoiding charges for breaking into a home in middle school. The principal made him enroll in an extracurricular program. After sitting silently in the back of the debate room, Conyers finally participated when the topic of drug addiction was brought up.

“But one day they were discussing drug addiction, which is a topic I know a lot about,” Conyers said in the Humans of New York post. “So I stood up and shared my story. Afterwards Ms. DiCo asked me to stay behind. Mainly she just wanted to make sure I was OK. She was like: ‘Do you need anything?’ But after that, she was like: ‘You should join debate.’”

In hindsight, Conyers wishes he paid more attention to DiColandrea.

“She was white, from Manhattan. She’d gone to Yale. I just assumed she didn’t have any problems,” Dico said in the Humans of New York post.

But that wasn’t the case. DiColandrea revealed to his students that he was in the process of transitioning.

“They waited until I was ready to tell them,” DiColandrea said in an interview, explaining that some students had suspicions when Dico would bring his “friend” to school events. “And then it was just unconditional love.”

“DiCo could have told me he was a dinosaur, and I’d be like: ‘That’s cool. Just stay DiCo,’” Conyers said in the Humans of New York Post.

DiColandrea and Conyers knew the biggest tournament of the year was a real shot when the topic was announced: “Should juvenile offenders be tried as adults?”

While Conyers recalled feeling out of place at the tournament, he found his home on the dais. Conyers recalled in the post that there was nothing special about his opening speeches, but on cross-examination he destroyed his opponents asking his predominantly white and affluent opponents whether they should be the person making this argument if they don’t know anyone.

“Jonathan needs to stick to the facts. His life story gives him an unfair advantage,” Conyers recalled a judge saying, in the Humans of New York post.

DiCo taught all his students to be calm and collected. But that’s when DiColandrea snapped.

“You will not do this to him. These rich kids have access to every resource. But you’re penalizing Jonathan because his life is f***ed up?” Conyers recalled Dico saying, in the Humans of New York Post.

Ever since that tournament, DiColandrea has been working hard to break down those barriers in debate. A few years later, DiColandrea founded the Brooklyn Debate League – a group that seeks to eliminate the gatekeeping in debate by expanding programs and teams to urban areas.

“But it’s not always just about personal anecdotes, it’s like, it’s a more fundamental, personal confidence,” DiColandrea said about teaching students a more personal and unconventional debate style. “It’s helping students understand at a really visceral and deep level, that regardless of what neighborhood they live in, or how much money their parents make, or what school they go to, or what color their skin is, or who they’re attracted to, or how they identify. Regardless of any of those identity markers, they belong in a space where the only weapon is words because their words matter”

“And that’s priceless. Knowing your voice matters,” Conyers said. “Especially as a young Black man, presentation and how you articulate yourself are important.”

And although it’s priceless, it still costs.

DiColandrea started the GoFundMe to cover the $6,000 he personally invested to cover payroll for the small mostly volunteer staff. It was covered in 10 minutes. After two days, it already hit a million. Now over a week later, it has raised over $1.3 million.

“It feels like a mix of the day I got married, all of my birthdays combined, and the day that my student won Harvard,” DiColandrea said about the newfound attention and funds. “It feels like everybody in the world is just reaching out with this abundant outpouring of love and kindness.”

The Brooklyn Debate league operated on a small and scrappy budget, reaching around 250 people on their mailing list and about 100 students coming to tournaments.

“That’s chump change now. We can change our whole mission now,” DiColandrea said with excitement in his voice. DiCo said that he’s looking to reach every person, school and program he can throughout Brooklyn and other urban areas.

“You don’t need to look any further than the New York State Championship that was held two weekends ago, right? There were over 60 schools there. And there were five of them that were public schools in New York City. And three of those were specialized schools. And we are the biggest school district In the country, we have, what, 1.1 million students? They weren’t in those spaces. And they’re not in the speech and debate circuit,” DiColandrea said, explaining the still urgent need for something like Brooklyn Debate League.

While Conyers credits a lot of how he got by in life due to his coach’s help, DiColandrea disagrees.

“I don’t know how to express it. You know, that kind of selflessness is what’s always made him so special; he’s a very humble person,” DiCo said. “And he wanted me to have this moment. And man, am I having it?”

Conyers now says he has figured out his why.

“I learned that giving back and being selfless can change lives. And what he [DiColandrea] did to me has allowed me to help so many people,” Conyers said. He has been on the front lines of COVID working as a respiratory therapist at NYU. He also started a home for children who had been orphaned during the pandemic and owns juvenile rehabilitation centers in Virginia to give kids like him the resources and opportunities he didn’t.

For DiColandrea, it’s a wish come true.

DiColandrea originally gravitated to the quote when he was 16. His high school was only a few blocks from the World Trade Center on September 11. IN the weeks after, she asked for book recommendations for helping to understand and process her trauma. The teacher recommended Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning.

“As someone who experienced this firsthand, we then had an obligation to speak up about it, to make sure that it wasn’t forgotten to make sure that people understood what happened.”

And that became DiColandrea’s reason. Helping his own students to process their trauma and make sure they know that their voice matters.

“We’re talking about racism. We’re talking about,people who are undocumented. We’re talking about people who come from low income communities. There are traumas that kids are carrying from those communities as well. I want them to feel empowered to speak up about what is meaningful to them, what is their lived experience. To teach them about what matters and for them to feel empowered to share that on whatever level they want. That might be just in front of a friend or a classmate or it might be on a national stage at the Speech and Debate championship,” DiColandrea said.

“But that voice belongs to them. And that power belongs to them to use it, to speak up about what they think matters.”

Even though Coyners said he never had a good answer to what his “why” was – he always knew a bit of the answer.

“All I knew was that I wanted to be like Ms. DiCo,” Conyers said in the Humans of New York post.

“I just want the world to know that there is so much more to Jonathon Coyners, there’s so much more to DiCo,” Conyers said. “We pray that we can continue to share our story and continue to share the things we have been through in much more detail, and we hope the world is supportive.”

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